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Thursday 27 June 2013

"It's Just a Drink"

I notched up my 500th post on this site with a review of a rather fine Merlot/ Cabernet Franc from Tapanappa. On that significant milestone I sat, seemingly paralysed; cursed with a respiratory infection that saw me bedridden for a period, unable and unwilling to taste.
A comment on that post: "but a 95 for a merlot blend, and the price?" and some discussion in the twittersphere about how "out of touch from the majority of consumers some wine writers are" had me thinking.
"It's just a drink". It's something you often hear said about wine. Offered both as a criticism, and in support of, commentary about wine. 
And it is. But perhaps tell that to the fifty-two thousand1 employed in the industry and quite possibly - again as both a criticism, and in support - they'll agree with you or possibly launch angrily into how it's their livelihood, the dinner on the table for their families, their opportunity to escape a desk job or the pursuit of a passion they could (ill?) afford to indulge. Or they might agree with you, hand you a glass and urge you to drink up. I don't know, I don't work in the industry so maybe I shouldn't be venturing an opinion on something that I have no first hand knowledge of. Unlike some.
What I do know is the industry is recognised as contributing 4.3 billion2 to the Australian economy and $1.85 billion3 in export revenues. Broadly similar in size, value and employment to the Australian automotive sector4. How much support does each industry receive from federal and state governments to prop it up?
Much of the criticism about the wine industry, along with its associated commentary is with regards to the 'snobbery'. Yet, for every wanker like me - and I see myself as part of the snooty, pontificating, glass swirling brigade -  there's at least one individual looking to reduce wine to its lowest common denominator, to "demystify wine one glass at a time".

For me, wine's inherent ability to reflect its place, it's seasons, along with the guiding hand of winemaker/ producer/ manufacturer/ excel spreadsheet are what make it such an exciting subject. Clearly an emotive one too. 

There's something about it that makes us prevaricate about it, renders some of us like vinyl junkies, scouring the shelves of favoured retailers for a particular variety/ region/ producer/ vintage. It has the ability to make some of us feel like a kid in a candy store, a few dollars in our pockets and the need to spend it on something, anything. Hours spent perusing shelves, touching the labels hoping for the transfer of something from the label through some osmosis like ability.
It has its darker side too, with alcohol abuse estimated to cost Australia $36 billion - though one would struggle to imagine how much of that is from chugging back bottles of fine wine.  

Yes, it is just a drink. But it's also about the people, the land, the shared experiences, the sheds where wine is crafted. Oh, and it's not just about the fine end of the market "and I'll take the high road from factory to factory too" with mass produced, bladder transported products too.
My point with this piece? A quick single to move me off a score I've been stuck on for a while? A chance to get something off my chest other than phlegm? I don't consider myself a wine writer, I prefer to reserve that term for those somewhat more professionally engaged in the noble-craft. Call me a blogger, a gentleman amateur, a wanker - as you wish. My blogging stemmed from an enjoyment of wine far beyond its consumption. To that end, I am very far removed from the "majority of consumers". And I am proud of that fact.


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  1. Well said Stu. I like your honesty and humility. Your words over time have probably struck a chord with more people than you would like to admit. Keep up the great work!

    1. Thank you Steve. I think as commentators that's the minimum we should strive for: honesty.

      And from that one would hope credibility is a natural consequence, along with an understanding of how the 'taster tastes'.

  2. A well run single Stu. As someone 'in the industry' I think you have it pretty spot on. For some of us wine is both everything and nothing. Good wine is where I might draw the distinction.

    Good wine, the stuff I get excited about, the stuff I want to recommend to every lovely guest, the type of wine that has a genuine meaningful story behind it, is what I want to share with my nearest and dearest (and hang the expense!) on my sparse and miniscule weekends.
    What's more, in the job I do good wine is by definition my livelihood and that gives it another type of significance entirely.

    Ordinary wine however, the type which is market researched before release, the type made to boost a supermarket's profit margin and share price, the type which has no story to tell, fails to excite me or have me care about selling a single bottle. To me that is just a drink, or something less.

    I have the greatest of respect for those to whom wine means even more, but to me wine to me will never be everything. I don't love it, but I care about it greatly and it fascinates me.
    I tell my guests this, and that they needn't try to pronounce Sommelier, that Wine Wanker is a suitably accurate description for someone who takes it so seriously. I'd be happy to share that title with you.

    1. Cheers Tate. With you in that it's the 'good stuff' that excites me too. But that still shouldn't detract from the fact that to some people the wines of lesser quality are still their living.

      Getting into the realms of the mass produced wines - and i think produced is the defining word here, yes I was kind of trying to allude to those through reference to the spreadsheet and the like.

  3. There is nothing wrong in being an amateur wine writer. You have something you are passionate about that you want to express. I fail to see the harm in that.

    N.B. The difference between a wine enthusiast and a wine wanker is that for the wanker it's all about status. They have tasted something you haven't. They use words you don't understand. It's all about them. On the other hand, the enthusiast wants to know what you like and what excites you. If crappy box wine is your thing then they'll accept that and ask why. The wanker builds walls, the enthusiast builds bridges.

    Are there more socially useful things to be into? Sure, but you're into what you're into.

    And if you're into wine then Australia must be one of the best countries in the world in which to live. We have plethora of imaginative, dedicated wine producers working with all manner of grapes, soils, climates, styles etc. How awesome is that?

    1. Thanks for your comment. Many people use words I don't understand - not just restricted to the field of wine.

  4. I tend to agree. Calls that it is "just a drink" are a bit simple really. And I suspect the majority of consumers, the group that are somehow overlooked by writers, won't want to read about wine no matter how engagingly expressed. Many I suspect would rather watch the football. And to the extent they engage with wine writing, I harbour a suspicion that they would be perfectly happy with a list that said "buy" or "don't buy"! And nothing wrong with that. Just write what you like, I say. We are victim to the same passion. My only mild objection is that I would call it "writing", if only because it seems un-PC to say so and I fail to see how getting paid a little to write an article or receiving a few $s from subscribers or advertisers makes much difference in the scheme of things in a context where all are pretty knowledgeable on the topic.